If you’ve turned on the radio this morning, you’ll have heard two things – news of a vote of confidence in Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party, and a series of cabinet ministers taking to the airwaves to proclaim their support for a leader who may, come 10pm this evening, no longer be the Prime Minister. One of these things is significant and the other – well, less so.
In brief, a confidence vote in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party is triggered when at least 15% of the parliamentary Conservative party send a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, stating that they’ve lost confidence in their leader. That tipping point has now been reached. Win, and under Conservative Party rules, she cannot be challenged for at least a year. Lose, and a leadership contest will be triggered that may take several weeks, and will lead to a new Prime Minister being installed in Number 10. Putting aside the possibility that any new leader may change the course of the UK away from a deal towards a ‘managed’ no-deal exit from the EU, the chances of a disorderly exit are increased by the destabilising effect of a leadership contest on negotiations with the EU, and the shortening of the parliamentary timetable that might otherwise have allowed MPs to debate Brexit and require the Government to change course or extend article 50. To say tonight’s confidence vote is significant is something of an understatement.
Protestations of support from cabinet ministers are less significant, for the simple reason that the vote is a secret ballot – no one will know how individual Conservative MPs cast their vote. Many Tory MPs have leadership ambitions, and machinations and manoeuvrings will now be the order of the day. And even in winning a vote, the Prime Minister may be fatally undermined if enough of her party vote against her leadership that it becomes clear she can’t command the loyalty of the MPs that she’ll eventually need to get her Brexit deal through parliament. Pandora’s box may now be well and truly open and the possible consequences – a no confidence motion tabled by the Labour Party, a possible general election, a second referendum – may all gain ground in the next few days.
Regardless of the manoeuvring and machinations that will go on late into tonight, political instability will continue, parliament looks unlikely to coalesce around a plan, and a withdrawal deal with the EU seems a little further away this morning. Perhaps the one thing that is clear is that those holding off for more certain times to prepare for Brexit should start contingency planning in earnest. We’ll post our thoughts on planning for Brexit in due course.
For help with preparing your business for Brexit please contact Luke or one of the team.